Paddle, float, and camp 187 miles through the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley
It’s not an exaggeration to say that without the Willamette River, the valley that shares its name would look far different today. It was the river’s fertile farmlands and floodplains, after all, that made it such an appealing home for generations of Native Americans and Oregon Trail emigrants. And easy river access has long made it possible to travel around Eugene, Albany, Independence, and Salem—all cities through which the Willamette River flows today.
The Willamette River isn’t the shipping channel it once was—but crops grown in the surrounding valley continue to reach consumers around the world today. And, not for nothing, but the river is a vibrant source of recreation for countless locals and visitors all year long.
Fed by mountain tributaries south of Eugene, the Willamette River flows northward for nearly 200 miles before emptying into the Columbia River near Portland. Along the way, it passes through cities large and small, boasts dramatic wildlife viewing opportunities, offers all manner of outdoor recreation, and showcases the natural beauty of the iconic Willamette Valley. Albany is centrally located on the river and many popular section itinerary options pass through or near Albany.
And you can see it all along the Willamette Water Trail, which covers 187 miles of wonder along the mainstem Willamette River, as well as the Coast Fork Willamette, Middle Fork Willamette, and the McKenzie rivers.
So what is the Willamette Water Trail, anyway? Think of it as, well, a hiking trail—but on water. Instead of walking all those miles, you can paddle or float as much or as little of the Willamette River as you’d like; in-town landings and roughly 50 riverside campsites make it easy to plan a leisurely afternoon on the water or a fascinating multi-day adventure—whatever sounds fun and doable.
Before you hit the water, here’s a bit about what to expect, how to stay safe, and how to get started.
1. Learn about the Willamette River
- Safety First – Wear a life jacket be vigilant for underwater hazards (wood and rocks), and respect other river users.
- Share the water: Listen for the occasional motorboat, and paddle closer together in groups when you hear a motorboat approaching. Motorboats need deeper water to safely operate and pass.
- We invite you to prepare, care and connect – Take Care Out There.
- Be sure to use the correct life jacket – Life Jacket Information
- Permits – All paddle craft 10 feet and longer are required to carry or display an Oregon State Marine Board Waterway Access Permit ($7 for a seven-day permit, available only through ODFW plus a $2 processing fee), $17 for an annual permit, $30 for a two-year permit). Youth under 14 are exempt and permits are transferrable to other watercraft. These permits help fund grants to develop or improve paddling access for boating facility providers and the aquatic invasive species prevention program co-managed by ODFW and the Marine Board. Paddling without a permit may lead to a $115 fine. Water Access Permit.
- Private property along the river – Much of the river is bordered directly by private property. Respect private landowners by ensuring that you only leave the river onto public lands.
- Leave No Trace – Follow Leave No Trace principles by packing out your trash and human waste, not building rock stacks (cairns) or campfire rings, and respecting wildlife by maintaining distance. Leave No Trace basic principles.
2. Plan your itinerary
3. Get your gear
- Know what to take – be prepared to keep yourself safe and comfortable. Gear Checklist.
- Get everything you need for a safe, fun river experience from the Corvallis-based outfitter—and with 20 boats available to rent, Peak Sports carries the right craft for any adventure.
While you’re in Albany…
Here are a few amenities we’d recommend for Water Trail travelers:
Visit the Sweet Dreams section of our website to find lists of hotels, RV parks, and campgrounds in Albany and nearby.
The Spirited Cuisine section of our website has information about our delicious restaurants and where to find wine, beer, and spirits.